Scotland v Serbia: Houston adamant Scots will come out all guns blazing
PETER HOUSTON has promised Scotland will be as “positive as hell” on Saturday when kicking-off their latest bid to qualify for a major finals against Serbia at Hampden Park.
The assistant manager was speaking at the start of a crucial nine-day period when much could be gained or lost. After the opening Group A World Cup qualifying clash against the Serbians, Scotland are then due to host Macedonia on Tuesday. Although he feels a four-point haul from the two fixtures would be an acceptable return, Houston has stressed the need to make a high-energy start against Serbia in a bid to gain the victory many believe is essential if Scotland are to make their presence felt at the top end of a group that also includes Croatia, Belgium and Wales.
Houston noted that Scotland have tended to glean a more positive outcome on those occasions when they have managed to get ‘in the faces’ of the opposition. Although manager Craig Levein is seeking to place a more technical emphasis on Scotland’s play, there is, Houston suggests, also a place for the kind of blood and thunder which has helped the international side to some of the more memorable recent successes at Hampden Park.
Hampden Roary, the new Scotland mascot, bobbed around outside the window of the Renfrewshire hotel where Houston was speaking, with the lion’s first job being described as “leading the Hampden roar” on Saturday. Houston wants Scotland to surf this wave of noise and emotion rather than let it intimidate them, the way he detects it might have done on some occasions in the past.
He noted that against Spain, in the last qualifying campaign, Scotland had made the mistake of handing their opponents too much respect. Before they knew it, Levein’s side were trailing 2-0. The same paralysis gripped Scotland in the home game against Czech Republic later in the group. Although Scotland managed to score the opening goal on the stroke of half-time, their opponents had dictated the game and eventually secured a 2-2 draw that effectively eliminated Scotland from the qualifying equation. Both Houston and Levein are aware of the need to avoid handing their opponents time and space in the crunch home games of this latest qualifying campaign. Scotland’s last significant victory against major opposition in a qualifier at Hampden arrived in rousing fashion against Ukraine in October 2007, when the home team raced into a 2-0 lead in the opening ten minutes before securing a 3-1 win.
“I don’t think anybody can expect to beat anybody,” he said, when asked whether Scotland should be expected to defeat Serbia, a team currently ranked 11 places above them. “The biggest thing to me is us being as positive as hell regards Saturday’s match – and only Saturday’s match, that’s what we are thinking about first and foremost.
“We have to have the Tartan Army behind us and when you ask the best way to get the fans to respond, the answer is to get up and at them. We have to be sensible, of course. But, if we allow them to dictate the play early doors, then they’ll gain confidence from passing the ball about. In the Spain game at Hampden we gave them too much respect in the opening half an hour or maybe even the first-half, but then we got in about them.”
Houston pointed out that there can be more than one positive outcome from such an approach. As well as not allowing the opposition time to settle, it also gives the fans an immediate lift. “I think we have to do that against Serbia – not give them time on the ball for two reasons,” Houston said. “You maybe win the ball back and secondly, when your supporters see that’s the way you’re going about it, they get a lift. We’ve got two home matches, get the supporters right behind you. I think we’ve got goals in this team, players in a number of positions who can score goals.”
There were, of course, some words of caution from Houston, who suggested Gary Caldwell would reprise his holding role in midfield against the Serbians, particularly in light of Scott Brown’s absence. “We have to make sure we don’t go kamikaze,” he said. “We have to make sure we have our defence when we are attacking. But our aim is to make sure we have a right go.”
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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